New Zealand has won a battle against virus transmission: PM Jacinda Ardern
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday claimed New Zealand had scored a significant victory against the spread of the coronavirus, as the country began a phased exit from lockdown.
“There is no widespread, undetected community transmission in New Zealand,” Ardern declared.
“We have won that battle.”
After nearly five weeks at the maximum Level Four restrictions — with only essential services operating — the country will move to Level Three late on Monday.
That will allow some businesses, takeaway food outlets and schools to reopen. But Ardern warned there was no certainty about when all transmission can be eliminated, allowing a return to normal life.
Everyone wants to “bring back the social contact that we all miss”, she said, “but to do it confidently we need to move slowly and we need to move cautiously.”
“I will not risk the gains we’ve made in the health of New Zealanders. So if we need to remain at Level Three, we will.”
The easing of restrictions came as New Zealand, a nation of five million people, reported only one new case of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, taking the total to 1,122 with 19 deaths.
With the Australian government keen on mapping a way out of lockdown, the option of reopening borders with Australia’s pacific neighbours is already being discussed.
While Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton believes Australia’s success in containing the coronavirus is due to the swift action it took in closing its borders, he said an arrangement with New Zealand is a logical first step in lifting restrictions. Only then could Australia look at other nations within the region that are enjoying the same success.
“You could look at an arrangement with New Zealand given they are at a comparable stage as we are in this fight against this virus,” Mr Dutton said.
But, he said it was very hard to see how Australia could open up its borders with other countries like the United States and United Kingdom at this point in time.
“That will be some time off,” he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and PM Ardern discussed the issue last week, but Ms Ardern played down the idea.
“Our current border restrictions and quarantine arrangements are the most important protections we have to stop the virus re-entering New Zealand and taking off again, so they will only be lifted when we are confident it is safe to do so,” a spokesman for Ms Ardern said.
“While nothing is going to happen immediately, the idea has merit as something that might be possible down the track.”
NZ Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters has previously suggested New Zealand might open its borders to Australia sooner than the rest of the world, but only if both countries continued to successfully manage the pandemic.